UK’s House of Lords Holds that Indefinite Detention Violates European Convention on Human Rights!

You know you are in trouble when the House of Lords is more protective of civil rights than the US court system: Law lords back terror detainees

Detaining foreigners without trial under emergency anti-terror legislation breaks European human rights powers, law lords ruled today.

The decision from the law lords, Britain's highest court, throws the government's security policies into chaos.

A specially-convened committee of nine law lords upheld an appeal by nine foreigners who have been detained without charge or trial, most of them in Belmarsh prison, south-east London, for around three years.

Experts said today's decision would probably force the government to repeal the section of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 which has permitted the indefinite detention of foreigners.

The law lords, making the ruling in the chamber of the House of Lords, described the legislation as “draconian” and “anathema” to the rule of law.

OK, OK, my slur on our Supreme Court is ever so slightly unfair, as the US case with the most closely related fact pattern, the Padilla case, was turned down on procedural grounds. (Both cases involve domestic detention of a suspect arrested domestically; the cases differ slightly, however, in that Padilla was a US citizen while the persons in the UK case are foreign nationals, albeit presumably legally admitted to the UK.) Read between the lines of Padilla and the other detention cases and you could get to a point where we end up a bit like the UK….but my point is that this requires some squinting and meanwhile Padilla is still in jail without charges or prospect of trial or indeed any idea of when he might get out.

Note also that in the US the Bush administration has implemented indefinite no-trial detention without a shred of statutory justification. Conversely, in the UK the detentions were not by executive fiat, but pursuant to an act of Parliament. Nevertheless, the Law Lords — who once proclaimed Parliamentary supremacy, but now have new powers under the European Convention and the UK's Human Rights Act, —have struck down indefinite detention in no uncertain terms, and by an 8-1 vote, as barbaric and uncivilized.

History will be cruel to this administration, which is indeed barbaric and uncivilized. Squandering the US's moral capital while looting the Treasury for the rich and debasing our currency is an historic achievement, but not one that one wishes to live through; it seems likely that the aftermath will be substantially worse.

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3 Responses to UK’s House of Lords Holds that Indefinite Detention Violates European Convention on Human Rights!

  1. fobyoc says:

    Technically you’re almost right. Their lordsips made one order and one declaration. They ordered that the statutory instrument derogating Art.5 of the convention ywas outwith the HRA and quashed the order. As a result of this the section of the statute under which the detention was authorised was declared to be incompatabe with HRA. It is up to Parliament to amend the legislation to comply with the judgment. The government is obliged to bring forward subordinate legislation to amend the statute if there are “compelling reasons” to do so. If the government does not act the applicants would apply to the ECHRt that they have been denied the right to an effective remedy (art.13). Governments are bound to comply with orders of the ECHRt (Art.46). It may be that further action will be necessary as the initial government reation appears to be somewhat obdurate.

    As for the applicants themselves, they were all failed asylum seekers who could not be deported to their countries of origin as such deportations may have led to their torture or death and therefore would be in breach of Arts. 2&3.

    I am not usually moved by court judgments but I was brought to tears by Lord Hoffman’s speech which closed with these words:

    “In my opinion, such a power [to imprson without trial] in any form is not compatible with our constitution. The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.”

    One final point, all the Law Lords were appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister of the day without any form of confirmation by the legislature.

    Fiat Justicia Ruelat Coelem.

  2. Chris says:

    There’s one thing we’re missing here–the administration’s perspective.

    To them, being a terrorist (which is anybody who opposes their policy, including US school teachers) means that you’re no longer a human being. You’re a demon, or something worse. I even used the term “untermensch” in an earlier post. All of which means that you’re no longer entitled to the basic rights accorded to human beings. This court ruling will not impress Bush & pals, and might make them even more resistant.

    As long as we’re facing this mindset, we might as well be shouting at our office walls.

  3. fnord says:

    Does Britain have its own Guantanamo, the UK Guardian asks:,,1300887,00.html


    “A Briton released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay told Europe’s top human rights body Friday he was beaten, shackled, kept in a cramped cage and fed rotten food as part of “systematic abuse” in American custody.”

    “Jamal al-Harith’s testimony before a Council of Europe panel came as part of an inquiry by the body into human rights abuses at the U.S. detention facility to be made public in a report due out early next year.”


    I wonder if the Council of Europe probe will treat Bush and co. any more kindly. -g

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